GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For senior Penny Splichal her final indoor track season was one that she hoped would be memorable, after the final day of the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track Championships, it was following her 5,000-meter championshipas shehelped her University of Arkansas Lady Razorback track team finish fifth as a team.
Taking the 3,000-meter crown on Saturday, Splichal became the first Lady Razorback since Christin Wurth in 2003 to sweep the SEC 3,000 and 5,000-meter titles and did so in grand fashion, nearly lapping the field on her way to the conference title.
“What a weekend,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Time and again we had someone step up and do what needed to be done. Penny obviously had the best meet, but you can’t count out everyone else who scored points for us like Dacia Barr and Paige Farrell.”
Working with teammate Laura Kerr for the opening laps, Splichal and Kerr spread out the huge 5,000-meter field in the first 600 meters which gave Splichal just the room she needed to put pressure on the favorites. Not long after it became a two-person battle and a rematch of the 3,000 meter from the night before as Auburn’s Angela Homan tucked in behind Splichal and ran stride-for-stride with the Dickinson, N.D., native. Fortunately for Arkansas and Splichal, by the time the race was halfway over there was no question as to who would win but by how much and with what time. The time, 16:09.14, was a huge motivator for Splichal down the stretch as it is an NCAA automatic qualifier and guarantees her a spot at the NCAA Championships in two weeks.
While Splichal was the leader, the rest of Arkansas’ 5,000-meter squad also performed well as they earned 14 total points in the event. Freshmen Kelly Vrshek and Denise Bargiachi claimed sixth and eighth-place in the competition to score and senior Jessie Gordon just missed the scoring with a ninth-place finish.
Perhaps the surprise of the meet for the Lady Razorbacks came in the 800-meters where sophomore Paige Farrell was about 15 meters shy of the upset of the meet. Coming into the SEC Championships, Farrell had run a disappointing season best of 2:19.14 and was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. Following a 2:09 prelim in the 800 Saturday, people began to take notice and many asked who Farrell was following her second-place finish in 2:07.84.
Getting off to a solid start, Farrell ran at the front of a pack that chased a lead group of three through 200 meters. With Farrell not allowing the leaders to get too far ahead, the pack caught the frontrunners by 600 meters making it anyone’s race. South Carolina’s Shay Shelton took the lead on the back stretch of the final lap with Farrell in fourth, but a strong move by the Springdale, Ark., hero allowed her to pass those in front and make a bid for the league title. Making up ground with every step, Farrell came around the final turn in hot pursuit of Shelton which brought the Florida crowd to a frenzy. Shelton would hold on for the win, less than three tenths ahead of Farrell.
The mile also showcased a young Lady Razorback who finished second in the league. Barr placed herself right at the front at the sound of the gun and would stay there for most of the race. Dropping back to third at one point, Barr was never out of contention for the championship and made a bold move on the final lap that forced her to the outside to pass two runners so she could secure second place.
In the sprints, Arkansas’ Tominque Boatright and Tiavannia Thompson handled their duties with sixth and eighth-place finishes in the 400 and 60-meter hurdles, respectively. Boatright was forced to avoid a falling body midway through her race before she could claim her finish. Thompson ran against several runners that are favored to make the NCAA finals in the hurdles and edged her way into the scoring.
Arkansas’ relays secured its fifth-place team finish with a sixth in the distance medley relay and fifth in a hotly contested 4×400. The Lady Razorback 4×400 team of Boatright, Jessica Cousins, Sasha Rolle and Farrell, recorded a season best time of 3:36.93, moving themselves up to ninth on the NCAA list.
Some Lady Razorbacks may compete in last chance meets to qualify for the NCAA Championships, but for a majority of Arkansas’ team, the indoor season comes to a close and they prepare for the outdoor campaign. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.